Every year, at the end of December, few residents of York, PA expect to spend their time celebrating Kwanza. Yet York is the hometown of Maulana Karenga, the founder of Kwanzaa. York, a city located west of the Susquehanna River, is also a city that was familiar to many of the founders of the United States of America. How did such a town become associated with two such different founders?
The founder of Kwanzaa did not always go by the name Maulana Karenga. As a teen at William Penn High School in York, he was known as Ron Everett. Only after he had gotten doctorates from both the United States International University and the University of Southern California did Mr. Everett adopt the name Maulana Karenga. At about the same time Dr. Karenga began to think about different ways for celebrating Kwanzaa.
Dr. Karenga, who had taken the Swahili name Maulana, a name meaning "master teacher," wanted the celebration of Kwanzaa to be about values. He knew that the traditional African Kwanzaa came from Kawaida, an African philosophy. That philosophy had emphasized values.
If Dr. Karenga had ever met Kenneth Woodward, the two of them would have had a lively debate. Woodward did not know anything about Kwanzaa, but he did have some definite opinions about values. In a June, 1994 article in National Affairs Woodward wrote, "But 'values' is a morally neutral term that merely indicates preference and can be quite banal." Woodward encouraged people to concentrate on the development of virtues, rather than values.
One wonders what our founding fathers would have thought about a debate over which deserves greater emphasis: values or virtue. These were men who knew nothing about Kwanzaa. Many did, however, spend time in York, PA. When, during the Revolutionary War, the British seized control of Philadelphia, the members of the Continental Congress fled to York.
These were the men who had played a part in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. They had all signed their names to that document. They most certainly had an opinion about the importance of values, and the importance of virtues. Perhaps their thoughts remained in the air of York, PA., and perhaps those thoughts then entered the mind of the young Ron Everett. That possibility seems the only half-logical explanation for the fact that a former York resident founded the celebration known as Kwanzaa.
After all, York is not at all like Africa. It is a city surrounded by farmland. Many of York's residents are descended from Germans. Most of those Germans held to a philosophy that appears to have no resemblance to Kawaida. Yet those Germans, like Dr. Karenga, placed great importance on values.
Perhaps that fact in itself underscores the weakness of an emphasis on values. Perhaps a visit to York, and an introduction to German values would cause one to favor the argument of Kenneth Woodward. Such an argument would tend to do away with any reason for the York residents to feel that they could or should one day be celebrating Kwanzaa.